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Subject: Bayreuth Continum (long)
From: James Bodge <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:James Bodge <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 6 Apr 2010 06:23:42 -0700

text/plain (179 lines)

In the spirit of improving discourse on this list, I respond to the recent
wonderful pieces on LE NOZZE DI FIGARO's great 2nnd finale.  The piece I
offer is not my own, however.

I have gotten permission from my good friend Bill Fregosi to post this
fine history of the postwar Bayreuth Festival.  He wrote it for his own
blog and for a lecture course he is teaching.  Bill used to be a valued
member of Opera-L, but found his life to full to continue everything he
was doing.  As much as this piece will make many of you "want him back",,
he isn't coming.

I've known Bill for over 40 years - we went to Bayreuth together in 1970
(he alludes to the trip), and I can't imagine a better, more concise
survey of the "problem" the Festival continues to pose, and the reasons
why that is so.  Enjoy,

Jim Bodge

In one of those landmark events that mark a real ending of an era,
Wolfgang Wagner, younger grandson of the composer, has died at age 90.

In the wake of World War II in a Germany most of whose major theaters and
opera houses had suffered damage or total destruction, the Festival opera
theater that Richard Wagner had designed and built specifically to present
his own works in the little town of Bayreuth stood undamaged.

There was no logic to this -- the town's railroad station and switching
yard had been taken out by Allied bombs, and the composer's house had
sustained a direct hit, being about half destroyed. The Festspielhaus
stood alone and exposed on top of a hill just outside of town from the
train station and was unmistakable from the air. The appropriation of
Wagner's ideas and works by the Nazi's was both complete and well-known
worldwide. The theater should have been a priority target. When the war
ended, the American occupation command was left with the thorny problem of
just what to do with one of Germany's foremost cultural icons.

The question of Richard Wagner's "complicity" in Nazi policy and the Final
Solution is something of a red herring in that he died in 1883, five years
before Adolph Hitler was born. His Nationalism was typical of many
Europeans who grew up in the shadow of the great upheavals of the 19th
century as the old monarchies were breaking down, and indepenent kingdoms,
scattered principalities, duchies and occupied territories struggled to
find a common identity with those others who shared a common language or
ethnic origin. Italy's great composer Giuseppe Verdi was no less an
Italian Nationalist than Wagner was a German one, but there was one extra
component to Wagner's story.

Wagner was outspokenly antisemitic -- in company with half or more of his
countrymen -- but less so than than many others. The problems came after
his death with the managing of his legacy by two English ex-patriots. The
first, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, married one of the composer's
daughters. An avowed Aryan supremacist, he became a Nazi Party hero as the
movement's chief living philosopher, on whose death in 1927 the Party
staged as close as possible to a State Funeral with full honors as they
could manage without yet being in power.

More significantly, a young English girl named Winifred Williams lost both
parents at age two and was passed around among relatives for the next four
years. At age six, she was sent to live with German relatives, a staunchly
Nationalistic older couple who were deeply involved with music, friends of
the late Richard Wagner, and wholly involved in the Wagner mystique. If
Dr. Frankenstein had been commissioned to construct a bride specifically
for the composer's son and heir Sigfried Wagner, he couldn't possibly have
produced anyone better suited than Winifred became under Karl and
Henrietta Klindworth's loving care.

She was 17 and he 45 when Siegfried and Winifred were brought together at
the 1914 Festival. A year later they were married and between 1917 and
1920 she bore him four children. When he died in 1930, their two sons
weren't within two decades of being able to inherit management of the
Festival. Winifred elbowed her sisters-in-law out of the way and took
command herself. She became an early supporter of Hitler (sending him food
packages and, reputedly, the paper on which he was to write his manifesto,
Mein Kampf while he was imprisoned) and a relatively early member of the
Nazi Party. When Hitler came to power she sent congratulations and invited
him to Bayreuth and to Wagner's house, which became a favorite retreat for

Hitler even proposed marriage, which was diplomatically refused because
she was otherwise involved -- Winifred was not one to let the grass grow
under her feet. However the Nazi government maintained close ties to
Bayreuth by purchasing huge blocks of tickets to the Festival's summer
season of performances to give to members of the armed forces for R&R.
Winifred's older son Wieland was personally exempted from military
service, as the heir to the Festival, by "Uncle Wolf", the family's
nickname for Hitler. Younger son Wolfgang was conscripted, however, and
experienced both action and wounds in the army. By this time, the family
and the Festival (which were inextricably intertwined) were fully
identified as well with the Third Reich and Nazi policy.

Relatively early in the war, as the boxcars began to roll to extermination
camps, Winifred began receiving increasingly desperate letters from Jews,
some musicians and others patrons of the Festival, and from friends and
agents of Jews begging her to use her influence to obtain protection from
the Final Solution. It is beyond question that she used this influence
frequently, mostly by calling Joseph Goebbels personally to plead for
special consideration based on whatever reason could be concocted that
would gain an exemption. In fact, she called so often that Goebbels, in
extreme annoyance, finally ordered that no further calls from Frau Wagner
be patched through to him, and ordered an aide to deal with her in future.

When it was all over, the American forces ran a de-Nazification
investigation on her which they found extremely frustrating. On the one
hand, many Jews and their families testified to the kindness and daring of
her interventions. There were also documents in her own hand to prove that
as the war went on, she found what was happening to Europe's Jews to be
unacceptable. But her personal loyalty to Hitler never wavered, to the
point that she claimed he could not have ordered the Holocaust because he
was such a gentle, cultured person. She acknowledged the horror stories
people were telling her but repeated constantly that the monster of the
atrocities wasn't the Adolph Hitler she knew personally.

The Americans finally threw their hands up in the air and said simply that
she could never have anything to do with the Festival ever again. Her two
sons were named to clean things up politically and to reopen it without
any Nazi associations, which they did in 1951. Many claim that such a
house cleaning never really happened and that many questionable
connections remained.

Wieland and Wolfgang ran the festival together, apparently with much
friction, from 1951 through Wieland's death in 1966 at age 49. During that
time they directed every production themselves, revolutionizing the opera
world's ideas of operatic scenery, costume and lighting by distancing the
works from all previous pictorial styles and going deeply into abstraction
and psychologically-driven acting. Wolfgang was the less visionary of the
two but whatever their personal rivalries, they presented a united front
to the world.

After Wieland died, Wolfgang kept on directing but opened the Festival up
to avant-garde directors of all kinds, many from the Eastern Zone of
Germany, who brought the latest, ultra-political and often
Marxist-influenced ideas to bear on Wagner's operas. One was reminded that
Wagner himself consorted with Marxist revolutionaries in Germany in the
1840s and was exiled for a while after the 1849 revolution for his
association with them.

In his later years, Wolfgang became very difficult. He had long ago thrown
his own son out of Bayreuth and "exiled" him and various nieces from the
Festival grounds. His brother's daughter Nike Wagner commented memorably
that growing up a Wagner was like being raised in the German branch of the
House of Atreus. He named his second wife as heir to the Festival, but she
died young and the mantle was designated to fall on his daughter by her,
the controversial and cutting edge stage director Katherina Wagner.

Various town and government officials got into the act when family members
mounted challenges, the accepted solution being that Katherina and her
30-year older half-sister Eva would run the Festival jointly.

Wolfgang retired officially in 2008. His death paves the way for Katherina
and Eva's promised and much anticipated opening of the family's private
archives to scholarly scrutiny for the very first time in order to answer
all questions, particularly those centering on the Bayreuth/Hitler
association. There is suspicion that Wieland and Wolfgang destroyed a
great deal of incriminating material, but if the Wagner women do follow
through by making the family's history as transparent as possible, they
will pave the way for a truly new New Bayreuth.

You really only need two things: WD-40 and Duct Tape. If something is
stuck and it shouldn't be, use WD-40. If it's moving and it shouldn't, use
Duct Tape.

James Bodge  [log in to unmask]

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